How to host the perfect barbecue?

Summer's here, and with it comes outdoor living and lots of barbecues. Now is your chance to take the kitchen outdoors as you grill, marinade and smoke your way to barbecuing greatness. Here are some tips to help you get the garden party started.

Choose your fuel

Barbecues are usually fuelled by gas or charcoal, and there are pros and cons to both options. Charcoal is cheap and easy to buy and gets very hot, adding a beautiful smoky flavour to the food. It also looks the part, causing orange flames to flicker around the fuel and put on a great display. Gas costs more to buy, and can only be purchased in specialist shops. The barbecues tend to be more complicated to put together, but far easier to clean. You can also add a smoky flavour by using wood chips in a special smoker box. Ultimately, it is up to you which fuel to use as either will result in a great barbecue.

Be prepared

Make sure you empty out the ash from your last barbecue and clean the grills where you are going to put the food. Get the charcoal really hot and wait until the flames have died down - or pre-heat the gas to the right temperature - before you start to cook. Think about the entire meal: do you want to serve salads, side dishes, bread rolls etc.? Draw up a shopping list and get your supplies in early so that the meat doesn't get cold waiting for the rest of the meal to appear.

Choose your food

Most people have enjoyed eating steaks, sausages and burgers fresh from a barbecue, but there is so much more choice than that. Put on a side of salmon, some sliced chicken breasts, pork chops or beef ribs for something different. Vegetarians needn't miss out either, with grilled vegetable kebabs, vegetable pizzas and buttery corn on the cob. Look up recipes for sauces that you can either marinade food in beforehand, or heat up and drizzle on the finished meal.

Tricks of the trade

Flip meat over with tongs or a spatula rather than a fork to avoid losing too many juices. Ideally, you should only flip once during the grilling process and don't press down on the meat too hard with tongs. Enhance the flavour by soaking some wood chips in water, then throwing them onto the coals, or into the smoker box to produce aromatic smoke. Or chuck some herbs on the coals to infuse food with their essence (soak the herbs in water and place them directly onto the grill if you are cooking with gas).

Clearing up

Never start to clear away until the barbecue is fully cooled. Try and leave it until the following morning if possible. Clear out the ashes and put the grills into soak, or use a steel brush to get rid of stubborn fat residues. After you use the barbecue for the last time before winter, leave a film of grease on the metal bars to prevent them rusting.